"This is the story of two great fighters: Achilles and Hector," says the Poet, a storyteller played by Kyle Hatley in the Kansas City Repertory Theatre's production of An Iliad. "What drove them to fight? The gods."
An Iliad, adapted for the stage by Lisa Peterson and Kansas City native Denis O'Hare, is based on "The Iliad," a nearly 3,ooo-year-old epic poem attributed to Homer. The story takes place in the final year of the 10-year war between the Greeks and the Trojans.
At the Kansas City Rep, on a stage resembling remnants of old ships, the Poet is accompanied by the Muse, a musician (played by Raymond Castrey). There are snatches of Greek, but most of the dialogue is contemporary, with "ums" and "ahs" scripted in. Although the story's been told and re-told, this narrator — as in the days of the traveling bards —plays to the audience as he tells his own version.
The 90-minute production presents challenges for Hatley who, in addition to the Poet, plays other characters such as the angry warrior Achilles and the drunken Greek leader Menelaus. According to Hatley, preparing to recite the catalog of wars throughout history was the most daunting.
"(It's) four and half pages of wars, just wars," Hatley told Up to Date host Steve Kraske, adding that it was the last section of the script he memorized. "I color-coded it. I used six different highlighters."
Despite the horrors of battle depicted in An Iliad, Hatley said it's not pro-war or anti-war.
"It is an unflinching, unapologetic look at what it means to live through war. Graphic, very, very graphic, and unapologetically so," Hatley said. "But it also takes a look at the other people that the war effects — wives, mothers and fathers and sons and brothers. And how the ripple effect of one action can thunderously explode through their communities."